Allied Harbour was NATO's first humanitarian operation
. Normally, such operations are almost exclusively the domain of civilian organisations, both international and non-governmental, but, in the case of the Kosovo crisis, by the end of March 1999 these agencies were unable to cope with the massive influx of refugees into Albania.
Within a fortnight over 200,000 refugees had arrived from Kosovo and NATO was the only organisation quickly able to meet the expanding need. HQ AMF(L) was deployed within five days and much credit should be given to the nations and NATO HQs in deploying their forces and the augmentees so quickly.
The soldiers and staff arrived ‘on the run', setting to work within twenty four hours of arrival, and within a few weeks, working closely with the civilian sector and the Albanian Government, we had the crisis under control. Of course the crisis did not end there and by 15 June 1999 there were 479,223 refugees in the country. But the provision by NATO of medical, engineer, transport, security and staff support prevented Milosevic from destabilising Albania and proved instrumental in sustaining the refugees and in their eventual return to Kosovo. The soldiers from all twenty five nations involved in the operation have much to be proud of. What follows is an outline of their achievement.
- 5 April - SHAPE placed AMF(L) at 72 hours Notice to Move (NTM)
- 9 April - AMF(L) Advance Party arrived in Albania
- 10 April - AMF(L) core staff arrived in Albania
- 16 April - Transfer of Authority to AFOR
- 17 April - 20 May - AFOR main effort was camp construction and improvements to the flow of humanitarian aid
- 28 April - HQ AFOR relocated to Durres-Plepa
- 20 May - 15 June - AFOR main effort is the relocation of refugees from Kukes
- 9 June - Cessation of bombing
- 14 June - Start of Information Campaign to delay spontaneous return and introduction of mine-awareness campaign
- 15 June - Camp construction programme suspended
- 27 June - Activation of OPLAN 104131 July – 7 August - AFOR main effort is the Repatriation Plan
- 1 July – 30 August - AFOR secondary task is the movement of shelter and aid
- 8 – 31 August - Relocation of AFOR forces and transition to COMMZ W
- 1 September - Transfer of Authority from AFOR to COMMZ W
Headquarters ACE Mobile Force (Land), based in Heidelberg, Germany is the Supreme Allied Commander Europe's Immediate Reaction Force Headquarters. It is trained, equipped and resourced to deploy within 72 hours anywhere within the NATO area in order to deter aggression and, since 1995, to conduct other missions, including humanitarian operations, elsewhere. This multinational headquarters conducts two major field training exercises and one major artillery/air live firing exercise annually to practise its subordinate units in combat and PSO operations in a range of temperatures and terrain from Norwegian winters to Turkish summers.
In early Spring 1999 President Milosevic ordered his paramilitary police force and Army into Kosovo where they embarked on a campaign of terror, expelling nearly one million Kosovar Albanians and causing many others to become internally displaced, hiding in the hills to escape the brutality of the ethnic cleansing. Those driven into neighbouring countries of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Montenegro and Albania were given shelter, food, protection and hope.
Albania embraced the Kosovars and, at the height of the emergency, there were nearly half a million refugees living with host families, in collective centres and refugee camps.
In response to the crisis, the Albanian Government reacted quickly in creating an Emergency Management Group (EMG) to co-ordinate the relief effort. Also NATO was approached to provide assistance, and on 16 April 1999 the North Atlantic Council approved Operation Order 40414 to deploy AFOR to Albania, with the task of assisting the Albanian Government and UNHCR (the designated lead humanitarian agency) in resolving the refugee crisis.
On 5 April 1999 HQ AMF(L) received a warning order and, based on the experience from a reconnaissance conducted the previous year in Albania, began developing an operational concept.
On 10 April 1999 COMAMF(L) deployed with a core command staff, via HQ AFSOUTH, to Albania to confirm the military requirements for AFOR and to take control in country from a predeployed AFSOUTH Command and Control node. The staff initially operated from the Albanian Ministry of Defence; being at the MoD provided proximity to key agencies, ministries, contractors and international and national journalists.
The HQ AMF(L) advance party arrived in Albania on 14 April with the main body following on the 20 April. Transfer of Authority (TOA) was issued on 16 April and HQ AFOR embarked on a five month mission, assisting Albania to absorb nearly half a million refugees, and later providing the necessary support to facilitate their return to Kosovo.